Fine Dining in FiDiCelebrated chefs are creating a new culinary mecca in Manhattan’s oldest neighborhood
“Downtown is what’s up!” so proclaims chef Daniel Boulud on videos promoting lower Manhattan.
Boulud, along with a slew of other celebrated chefs, have opened locations in New York City’s Financial District, nicknamed FiDi. Uptown residents, who used to joke that they would get a nosebleed if they ventured below 14th Street, are now eating their words or better yet the culinary creations of these famous toques at the very tip of the island.
FiDi is now the hottest real estate market in Manhattan. The number of residents has tripled from 20,000 to 60,000 since 9/11. The new World Trade Center is open. Conde Nast and Time, Inc. have relocated downtown. The 9/11 Memorial and the Santiago Calatrava-designed Oculus are major tourist attractions. There were 14.8 million visitors in 2016, up 19 percent from 2014. They need places to eat and drink and even to sleep.
Two five star hotels opened in 2016—AKA Wall Street’s Outdoor a.lounge and the Beekman Hotel. The Four Seasons, located one block from the World Trade Center, features Cut, Wolfgang Puck’s first restaurant in New York. Nearby The Beekman, which was one of the city’s first high rises built in 1883, houses Tom Colicchio’s Temple Court restaurant as well as Augustine operated by Keith McNally of Balthazar fame. Temple Court’s menu references turn-of-the-century New York classics while Augustine evokes Paris. The Beekman’s magnificent nine-story atrium with filigreed balustrades, serves as the lobby bar.
Restaurants are multiplying faster than condos. Boulud’s Epicerie is smack dab in the Westfield World Trade Center transportation hub where New Jersey path trains and the subway pour forth thousands of hungry commuters and tourists. The 40,000 square foot Eataly Downtown, located on the third floor of World Trade Center 4, offers an edible encyclopedia of Italian pasta, cheese, charcuterie, and prepared foods as well as sit down restaurants and a market.
Brookfield Office Properties decided to redevelop the former World Financial Center, overlooking the Hudson River, around a culinary theme. Hudson Eats, its carefully curated food court, offers workers everything from Mighty Quinn Barbecue to Blue Ribbon Sushi. Brookfield Place houses Le District, a French market and restaurant cluster sometimes called the French Eataly. Inside Le District’s Beaubourg restaurant, French chef Nicolas “Nico” Abello, whose mentors include Gérard Vié, Pierre Gagnaire and Daniel Boulud, creates custom menus in a dinner party like atmosphere at Michelin-starred L’Appart. Philadelphia chef José Garces made his first foray into New York with Amada. Branches of P.J. Clarkes, Parm, and Del Frisco’s Grille thrive. It even made sense to include a culinary school. On the second floor, the Institute of Culinary Education, trains a new generation of chefs in its 74,000 square foot state-of-the art professional school. “It’s exciting being part of the downtown renaissance,” owner Rick Smilow says.
On Broadway, close to Wall Street, restaurateur Drew Nieporent relocated Nobu after its 23-year run in TriBeCa. Nieporent, who pioneered TriBeCa when he opened Montrachet in 1985, is excited to be pioneering even farther downtown in an area that has literally risen from the ashes following 9/11. “We’re right across the street from St. Paul’s Church where people sought refuge in the shadow of the World Trade Center,” Nieporent says. Nobu is located inside the former AT&T headquarters with soaring 40-foot high ceilings and 50 Doric Botticini columns. Architect David Rockwell met this vertical challenge by suspending a gracefully floating black wooden sculpture meant to reference Japanese calligraphy over the bar.
The Bromberg brothers opened Blue Ribbon Federal Grill in the AKA Wall Street extended stay hotel on William Street and Maiden Lane.
On Wall Street itself, David Chang’s Fuku fries chicken sandwiches for millennials, Sweet Greens tosses salads, and a branch of Whole Foods is scheduled to open next year.
The Seaport District, formerly known as the South Street Seaport, is being redeveloped by the Howard Hughes Corporation which has lined up some heavy culinary hitters for next spring—Jean-Georges Vongerichten, David Chang, and Chloe. In the meantime, chef Sherry Yard, a 20 year veteran of the Wolfgang Puck empire, and barman Adam Seger, who made his name at Nacional 27 in Chicago, are holding down the port at the Tuck Room and iPic Theater. “Bars and restaurants are what make a neighborhood cool,” says Seeger. “The restaurant and retail here are being extremely curated to offer a unique experience.” Their ability to host private catered events in a theater has already turned out to be a draw for movie premiers and album launches.
Watering holes have never been lacking in lower Manhattan going back to Harry’s at Hanover Square opened by Harry Poulakakos in 1972 or for that matter to Fraunces Tavern opened sometime between 1762 and 1767. But the craft cocktail spotlight is now beamed on the area by Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry at the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog (voted world’s best bar by Tales of the Cocktail in 2015) and at Black Tail, a Cuba themed bar voted best new American Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail 2017. Both are owned by Peter Poulakakos.
And the parade of notable names heading downtown shows no signs of slowing down. Chef Daniel Humm and his business partner Will Guidara, whose 11 Madison Park is currently number one on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, will set up shop in 3 World Trade Center. Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, which staked an early claim with North End Grill, a Shake Shack and a Blue Smoke in Battery Park City, is planning a restaurant and bar with an event space on the 60th floor of 28 Liberty Street, a mere meatball toss away from Eataly.
Perhaps restaurants really are the new retail.
Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is a freelance writer and the co-owner of Flavor Forays, a culinary travel company. flavorforays.com